Harry's education, and yours: A father sends his son off to college, with wisdom from a boy wizard

To Zac, my son:

As you prepare to enter college, one of your childhood pleasures — the "Harry Potter" books and movies — is ending in theaters around the world. What a journey author J.K. Rowling provided for you and millions of young people everywhere. You have grown up with Harry Potter. I read the first book to you when you were in second grade. Enthralled by the characters, the adventure, the heroics and the coming-of-age stories, you finished reading the series when "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" was published in summer 2007.


The themes explored in the "Harry Potter" tales resonated deeply with your generation. But they also speak to people of all ages. So as you head away to school, I thought I would write down some lessons your parents have drawn from the books and movies. I hope these lessons stay with you in college and in the years beyond.

To begin, know that growing up brings gains and losses. Harry Potter makes new friends and builds relationships with various teachers. Others fade away or die. Some teachers may recede in your memory. But I hope you will be indelibly inspired by others and make an effort to stay connected to them, as Harry and his pals did with Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall and others. In the next few years, you and some of your high school friends may drift apart; you will make new friends at college. Like Harry, you may be surprised as you learn more about people and their motivations. In the long run, even people you may consider difficult or hostile — think of Severus Snape or Draco Malfoy — may turn out to be not so bad.

While you, unlike Harry, have the good fortune to have living parents, your mother and I will age. At times we will seem totally out of touch with your new existence. Please remember we are not the Dursleys. Harry, Ron and Hermione benefited from the love and teachings of their absent parents. You may discover we are still somewhat relevant to your new life. In any case, we hope the values and priorities we have modeled will guide you even when you are far away. We may seem like complete Muggles during your magical college years, but our life experience may help guide your journey.

Harry's journey took him through tumultuous times. So has yours. You have witnessed the loss of your paternal grandparents, the tragedies of Sept. 11, global conflict, and natural disasters. In this country, you have seen a historic presidency, amazing changes in technology, harsh economic times, and dysfunction in our government. Overseas, you have seen revolutions in the Arab world. In that context, you have developed a zeal for social justice, as well as skepticism about the ability of our generation to get things done. Perhaps you and your friends, with support from some sympathetic teachers, can restore order to our world as Harry did for his. But in our world, social change rarely comes as quickly or definitively as in the Harry Potter books. As Harry and his friends learned, determining who is a hero or villain can be difficult.

Learning is the key to life. Harry Potter was, after all, a student during those many years, learning, exploring and asking questions in and out of the classroom. The books and the movies give a sense of how exciting education can be. Ultimately, Harry's mind and heart contribute more to his triumph over Voldemort than his wand.

Toward the end of "Deathly Hallows," I was struck by an exchange between Harry and the late Albus Dumbledore.

"Tell me one last thing," said Harry, as he meets Dumbledore in a surreal train station during the final battle. "Is this real? Or has this has been happening inside my head?"

"Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry," Dumbledore replied. "But why on earth should that mean it is not real?"

In your quest to make a difference, and in your studies and pursuits, I hope you will find meaning in the "real" and the "imagined" worlds. Exploring the creative world will, I hope, excite and inspire you. I hope you will care about the state of the world, and that your classes and activities feel real.

But don't be afraid to explore what is happening inside your head. Your college years allow you the freedom to exercise your creativity and imagination. You have the chance to investigate the life of the mind in an array of fields and in an increasingly global environment. While you may be focused on the future, allow yourself to probe history, culture, the arts and the humanities. Just as your generation embraced the Harry Potter stories, I hope Plato, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Toni Morrison will now populate the world inside your head.

As you prepare to go to your Hogwarts, we wish you the thrill of new experiences, new teachers and new friends. And we hope you don't have to battle too many dragons or evil wizards. We believe that you, like Harry Potter, have the character and integrity to confront any challenges that lie before you.

Marvin Krislov, a native of Baltimore, is president of Oberlin College in Ohio. His email is